Death Race 2 (2010)

(On DVD, December 2011) I won’t try to hide my disdain for the 2008 film that led to this follow-up, especially given how it establishes my low standards for approaching this film.  Can you expect anything good from a Direct-to-Video prequel to a wholly useless remake/prequel?  No way.  And yet, especially by the rising standards of Direct-to-Video action movie, Death Race 2 actually isn’t too bad.  Director Roel Reiné knows how to work with a small $7-million budget, and the film feels just as big as the big-budget 2008 film.  Luke Goss makes for a fine stand-in to Jason Statham as an action hero, Lauren Cohan seems to be auditioning for a chunk of Milla Jovovich’s career (similitudes may not be accidental given Paul W.S. Anderson’s presence as a writer/producer), and there are surprisingly big and enjoyable roles for both Danny Trejo and Ving Rhames.  The concept of the film has been stolen from the 2008 Death Race, but the dialogue has occasional moments, the story leads straight into the 2008 film, and the direction is quite a bit better than what we could expect with moving cameras, ambitious pyrotechnic stunts and audacious shots –some of them in super-slow-motion.  The car chase following the bank robbery looks as if its cost quite a bit, and the film seems to have been able to re-use a bunch of material from the 2008 film.  It’s certainly more colourful than its predecessor, taking away one of the main criticism I had of the earlier film.  No, there certainly isn’t any more social consciousness here compared to the 1975 film.  But it is exactly what it claims to be: a competently-made action film released straight to video.  I even enjoyed chunks of it.  The DVD extras are far more successful in focusing on the making of the film than trying to glorify it as an entry in an ongoing “franchise”; director Reiné is more interesting in discussing aspects of his approach in low-budget film-making.

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